Putting a stop to Bullying

NDCS - Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

Ian Noon, Head of Policy and Research

This blog post was originally published on The Huffington Post.

School can be tough at times for all children, but for many deaf children and young people it can be particularly hard. On top of the same challenges that everyone faces, such as meeting homework deadlines and working out if that girl or guy fancies you, many deaf children and young people also have to contend with having to work that bit harder to follow and understand what their teacher is saying and keep up with what their mates are chatting about.

Sadly, for some, the risk of bullying can make life at school extra difficult. Research has shown that deaf students are often more vulnerable to bullying than other children. Nearly two thirds of deaf young people reported having been bullied because of their deafness, through an online poll* on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s website for deaf young people – The Buzz.

Sharing a joke with classmates or joining in the break time banter might be taken for granted by hearing people. But it’s thought that the risk of ‘breakdowns’ in social communication, or looking ‘different’ because a child is wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants, can end up marking out deaf children and young people as ‘different’ and hence more vulnerable. Elsewhere, social media offers a great opportunity to overcome communication barriers but comes with its dark side of potentially exposing deaf children and young people to cyberbullying.

I grew up deaf and went to a mainstream school in a small village in Leicestershire. Fortunately I feel very lucky never to have had any major problems with bullying. I could be happy about this but it’s always struck me as unfair – whether a deaf child enjoys school and avoids bullying should not be down to luck.

Everyone – teachers, school staff and parents can help reduce the risk of bullying. The National Deaf Children’s Society has produced a pack of resources to support all those with a responsibility for ensuring the well-being of deaf students, including deaf young people themselves.

Bullying resource for young people

The resources explain why deaf children might be more at risk from bullying and the simple things that everyone can do to prevent this from happening. For example, my school had lots of deaf awareness training and I was surrounded by a good bunch of friends who understood that I liked being able to chat at lunchtime in a quiet area.

I also had lots of opportunities to develop my speech and language skills and access to some great equipment in the classroom (known as radio aids) which amplified everything and meant that I could usually follow what was going on. I also had lots of work done on my language and communication skills. I like to think also that my parents imbued me with a sense of confidence and assertiveness to ‘own’ my deafness and to stand up for myself if there were ever any problems.

That’s not to say I never had any problems at all. I remember one time that some kids would keep “whispering” to me or covering their mouths when they spoke, knowing that I wouldn’t understand. Fortunately too, my teachers spotted this happening and clamped down on it immediately.

It’s important that everyone is vigilant to the signs that a child might be being bullied, just as some of my teachers were. Many of the signs are the same for deaf children as for all children – such as disruptive behaviour, not wanting to go to school and changes in appearance, for example. But where deaf children and young people are involved, there can be some added considerations. One of the key signs that any child is being bullied is that they become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a failure to pick up bullying in deaf children because this kind of behaviour is sometimes attributed to their being deaf, rather than as a warning sign of wider problems.

The National Deaf Children’s Society’s new resources include a set of creative colourful postcards that deaf young people can pick up to quickly remind themselves of what they should or shouldn’t do in a difficult situation. Empowering deaf children and young people is absolutely essential. Deaf children and young people may need some help to understand what cyberbullying is and to know what to do if it crops up. We can’t always be there to protect them, but we can give them the tools and confidence to protect themselves.

By taking a few simple steps, we can all minimise the risk of bullying and make sure that deaf children and young people have happy memories and experiences at school and leave as confident adults.

More information on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s resources to prevent and tackle bullying, can be found here.

*The National Deaf Children’s Society commissioned a poll in 2012 on its young people’s website The Buzz, asking deaf young people their views on bullying. The poll received more than 600 respondents.

What does the reshuffle mean for deaf children?

Jonathan Barnes

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

With Jeremy Hunt remaining as Health Secretary, the headline-grabbing Cabinet move announced yesterday for deaf children was in Education. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, was replaced by Nicky Morgan. The big question is what this might mean for deaf children?

We are unaware of any personal connection that Morgan has to deafness, whereas Gove had a deaf adoptive sister growing up and a mother who was a Teacher of the Deaf. This meant that Gove always had some interest and familiarity in the issue of childhood deafness. Morgan has previously asked questions of ministers on deaf issues, but otherwise there is a question mark over her familiarity with deafness.

Michael Gove at an NDCS event in 2008

Michael Gove at an NDCS parliamentary event in 2008

What can we expect from the Department for Education moving forward? There will be a continued focus on SEN reform. There are positive intentions here, but will it lead to better outcomes for deaf children? We are concerned it won’t unless there is a proper focus on accountability within the system.

We can’t ignore also the impact of cuts. Through our Stolen Futures campaign, we have interacted frequently with local government. Too often, cuts to services are happening at a local level. The Department for Education have said that they have protected the budget, but it’s clear that this hasn’t been backed up by action.

Over the past few years, we have seen a trend of improving attainment for deaf children and young people. With 43% of deaf children achieving five good GCSEs compared to 70% of children with no identified special education needs, there is still a lot that needs to be done. Action is still needed from the government. Let’s hope Nicky Morgan can deliver.

8 Top tips for campaigning using social media

Jonathan Barnes - NDCS, articles we’ve been reading this week

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

We thought that we’d share some of our top tips for campaigning on social media as we often get asked about this by parents wanting to campaign. We find that the two most useful websites for spreading the campaigning message are Twitter and Facebook, so most of these tips are focusing on those two sites, but many apply to others too.

1)    Social media is about two-way conversations – ask questions and answer others when they ask you.

2)    Using images with status updates doubles the level of engagement.

3)    Update regularly. This doesn’t have to be every day, though it is better if it is. I’d say make sure you update at least once a week to avoid your presence becoming stale and uninteresting.

4)    Use hashtags (which look like this: #basketball) to find other people talking about the same subject, or to share your message with people interested in similar things, in this instance basketball.BBall

5)    The shorter the status, the more popular it will be. Brevity is appreciated in pretty much all walks of life, and online it’s no different! About 100 characters is an optimum length for tweets, which isn’t very much. In fact, it’s about the length of point (1). The optimum length for facebook posts is even shorter – about 40 characters.

6)    Speed is really important, especially on Twitter. In August 2013 there was a record 143,199 tweets per second, caused by people in Japan watching the film Castle in the Sky. A lot of content is generated very quickly, as anybody tweeting along to BBC Question Time (#bbcqt) can testify, so it is important to keep up to speed with it. People will engage with you if you are useful to them. One way to be useful is to be relevant: it isn’t much use to be sharing an article on social media that everyone read three weeks ago.Lobsters

7)    Be yourself. One of the fantastic things about social media is that everybody can find their own little niche. Are you a fan of knitting mid-sixteenth century Sicilian lobsters? Then you’ll be able to find somebody else online with a similar interest! Find them, engage with them, and amazing things can happen. Similarly, it is an informal, relaxed and humorous place – embrace it!

8)    Tweet your MP. Twitter gives you direct access to decision-makers – MPs, councillors, health services. Tweeting them directly can engage them in conversation and you can keep the pressure on them!

5 articles the Campaigns Team has been reading this week

Alex Chitty, Campaigns Assistant at NDCS - Stolen Futures

Alex Chitty, Campaigns Assistant

Every week we’ll be compiling a short list of articles that we’ve noticed in the news and want to share with you. Some of them will be about campaigning and others will be about changes to policy, or relevant policy areas, which may be of interest.

1)    A day in the life of … a deaf children’s family officer, Emma Williams-Daly, Guardian
Emma Williams-Daly, Family Officer at NDCS offers impartial information, advocacy and support to families of deaf children and young people.

2)    Truss: Pupils in poor mental health ‘not troublemakers’, Judith Burns, BBC News
Too many young people with unmet mental health needs are unfairly labelled as troublemakers, says the Education Minister, Elizabeth Truss. The Department for Education has launched guidance to help schools in England spot mental health issues.

3)    The Perfect Storm, Brian Lamb, Campaign Central
Drawing on Oxfam’s recent ‘The Perfect Storm’ campaign, Brian discusses the importance of distinguishing between what is political and what is party political in campaigning. He maintains that the third sector must not allow their contribution to debates concerning the impact of government policies on the groups charities represent to be framed as being an unacceptable activity.

4)    Deprivation Britain: Poverty is getting worse – even among working families, Chris Green, Independent
A recent study shows that the number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister.

5)    10 things we’d like to say to teachers, Anonymous, Guardian
Following on from an article we featured last week, parents add their two cents.

Have you spotted any good articles around this week? Leave a comment below to share them with us!

5 articles the Campaigns Team has been reading this week

NDCS, Sam Aldridge

Sam Aldridge, Campaigns Assistant

This week’s articles were compiled by Sam Aldridge, Campaigns Assistant at the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

Every week we’ll be compiling a short list of articles that we’ve noticed in the news and want to share with you. Some of them will be about campaigning and others will be about changes to policy, or relevant policy areas, which may be of interest.

1)   Lobbying Bill: keep calm and carry on campaigning, Liz Hutchins, Guardian Voluntary Sector

The Lobbying Act is a hard pill for charities to swallow. Liz Hutchins explains why it is essential that the sector gets behind the fight to repeal the bill.

2)  David Cameron’s house ‘fracked’ by protestors, Miranda Prynne, The Telegraph

Greenpeace protestors turn the Prime Minister’s country home into a ‘fracking site’ in protest at new pro-drilling laws, the environmental group reveals.

3)   GCSE and A-Level subject range set to be cut back, Sean Coughlan, BBC News

Exam reforms in England will see tougher qualifications for some GCSE and A-level subjects, while others could be scrapped, a watchdog has said.

4)   Now’s the time to make our ask of the political parties, Elizabeth Balgobin, Third Sector

With the general election approaching, charities must state loudly and clearly what they need to do their work, writes columnist Elizabeth Balgobin.

5)   NHS risks ‘chaotic failure’ if parties do not come up with plan to save itCharlie CooperThe Independent

All three political parties must publicly acknowledge the financial crisis faced by the NHS and put solutions at the heart of their 2015 General Election manifestos, health chiefs have said.

Have you seen any articles this week that you liked? Post the link to them in the comments section below and we’ll check them out!

How can Local Government deliver for Deaf Children?

Reema Patel

Reema Patel, NDCS Trustee and newly-elected Barnet Councillor

As we take in the results of the local elections, campaign groups including deaf children, young people and parents will be considering how best to engage with local politicians and local political parties. We know that, despite deafness not being a learning disability, the attainment gap between deaf and children with no identified Special Educational Needs (SEN) is large – with a 28% difference in those who achieve 5 GCSEs between A*-C including English and Maths – and whilst over time this gap is narrowing, closing the gap remains one of the key priorities for local areas, schools and health providers.

There are, however, challenges. Local politicians may feel disempowered in an education system that has recently favoured greater independence for schools in the way they run and deliver services, and in a system where the impact of proposed changes to the SEN system have been less than clear. Whilst councillors may have every best intention to make an impact, it may not always be clear to them how best to do so.

So what are the most important steps that campaign groups, parents and children can take to close the gap between deaf children and non-deaf children?

1)    Reassure local politicians that there is something they can do

Local politicians should begin by gathering more information to find out exactly what the issues are in their area. What does the gap look like in their local area? What support already exists out there? In what areas is our local authority failing deaf children, and can we look at best practice elsewhere to improve the way we allocate our resources? How do we find the money to plug the gap? What powers do local authorities have to deal with these challenges?

2)    Provide evidence and solutions

As a campaigner myself, I know full well that it is often when local campaign groups are quick enough to take the initiative, to do research themselves and put forward concrete recommendations that the most effective kind of influencing happens. Parents getting in touch with local representatives, identifying problems that they have encountered first hand, sharing their story, and offering concrete solutions makes it very difficult for the representatives to say no.

3)    Stay ahead of the game

This week, we have a batch of brand new councillors who have never been local politicians before in a system that has changed a lot in recent years. For example, SEN reform – to be implemented later this year – presents great challenges as well as opportunities for local authorities and campaigners alike. Local authorities will be able to consider granting children personal budgets to meet their needs – balancing this with the need to allocate resources fairly in a world of dwindling resources, and they will also need to think about ways to make the most impact with less resource available. With a system such as this, a vocal, active parent-led campaign group could be very effective in securing improved outcomes and increased support for deaf children – and may well make a difference. Joining with other parents, as you can through the NDCS Campaigns Network, will amplify your voice going forward.

What local authorities can best do to support deaf children will vary depending on the needs of the child(ren) involved, the local area itself and what is already available in the local area – all in a rapidly changing local government and public sector landscape. Because of this, good local politicians will understand that part of their job is to make listening and responding to interested groups easier as well as building influence with stakeholders outside of local authorities in the health and schools sector, instead of adopting a ‘top-down’ approach and presumption of what is best for children without engagement.

It is a partnership with deaf children, their parents and advocates that will in the long-term enable local politicians to most effectively narrow and then close the attainment gap.

5 articles the Campaigns Team has been reading this week

Jonathan Barnes - NDCS, articles we’ve been reading this week

Jonathan Barnes, Campaigns Assistant

Every week, we’ll be compiling a short list of articles that we’ve noticed in the news and want to share with you. Some of them will be about campaigning and others will be about changes to policy, or relevant policy areas, that may be of interest.

1)   Free schools – what can America teach Britain? – Laura McInerney, The Guardian

MPs visited the US last month to see what we can learn from charter schools. According to this feature, they came away with ideas about closure, takeovers and decisive action.

2)    9 milestones deaf parents should record Emily Howlett, Limping Chicken

Have you seen any of these hugely popular ‘Baby Milestones’ things? They’re generally books, or lists, or online checkboxes of gorgeous and lovely things your little one will do, so that you can record precisely when each happened for the first time. Here’s a rundown of the extras you get as a deaf parent.

3)    See Hear: Looking beyond the curtain of silenceWilliam Mager, BBC News Online

We’ve come a long way in the 41 years since Horizon first broadcast a documentary on deafness. Sometimes we should stop and celebrate, which this article does.

4)   One year until General Election 2015: what charity leaders want Aimee Meade, The Guardian

A range of charity leaders discuss what they want to see from the political parties for the third sector before the general election next year.

5)    Building communication with a deaf childLydia L. Callis, Huffington Post

Lydia Callis argues that discovering sign language with your deaf infant offers the opportunity for both of you to experience a richer life and a closer relationship. By accepting your child’s abilities and taking the time to access their world from a young age, you also give them access to yours.

Have you spotted any good articles around this week? Leave a comment below to share them with us!